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High-Speed Laser Scanner Maps a Surface in Three Dimensions

Surface flaws can be scanned automatically and displayed in real time. Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California A scanning optoelectronic instrument generates the digital equivalent of a three-dimensional (X,Y,Z) map of a surface that spans an area with resolution on the order of 0.005 in. (≈0.125mm). Originally intended for characterizing surface flaws (e.g., pits) on space-shuttle thermal-insulation tiles, the instrument could just as well be used for similar purposes in other settings in which there are requirements to inspect the surfaces of many objects. While many commercial instruments can perform this surface-inspection function, the present instrument offers a unique combination of capabilities not available in commercial instruments.

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MALDI and Biotech Push Nitrogen Laser Development

The nitrogen laser is experiencing new growth due to low cost and the MALDI technique. Stanford Research Systems, Sunnyvale, California The Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption and Ionization (MALDI) technique in 1987 led to a renewed interest for the nitrogen laser. MALDI allows large and fragile biomolecules to be desorbed and ionized intact, or with much less fragmentation. The technique increased the upper mass limit for mass spectrometric analyses of biomolecules to over 300,000 Da, and has enabled the analysis of large biomolecules by mass spectrometry to become easier and more sensitive.

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Electro-Optical Imaging Fourier-Transform Spectrometer

Size, weight, and vibration are reduced by eliminating moving parts. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California An electro-optical (E-O) imaging Fourier-transform spectrometer (IFTS), now under development, is a prototype of improved imaging spectrometers to be used for hyperspectral imaging, especially in the infrared spectral region. Unlike both imaging and non-imaging traditional Fourier-transform spectrometers, the E-O IFTS does not contain any moving parts. Elimination of the moving parts and the associated actuator mechanisms and supporting structures would increase reliability while enabling reductions in size and mass, relative to traditional Fourier-transform spectrometers that offer equivalent capabilities. Elimination of moving parts would also eliminate the vibrations caused by the motions of those parts.

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Glass Molding Makes High-Quality Aspheres Cost Effective

High-resolution digital imaging, low-light-level biomedical devices, and automotive sensing are just a few of today’s hot technologies demanding both low-cost and high-performance optical systems. Critical in this effort is the mid- and high-volume requirement for aspheric optical components. Unfortunately, CNC polishing methods are expensive and take too long to produce each component, which has pushed precision glass molding to the front of asphere manufacturing technologies.

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New Metals, Optics, Tools, and Processes Focus on Satellite Imaging

Lightweight, aspheric, reflective optical designs commonly are designed and built for demanding space-based remote sensing, targeting systems, and aerial reconnaissance. Traditional designs utilizing low expansion optical glasses steadily are giving way to metals such as aluminum, beryllium, and AlBeMet, and ceramics such as silicon carbide. These materials can be produced in extremely lightweight, yet robust and athermalized, designs by virtue of their superior tensile strength, fracture toughness, and the ability to compose support structures and mirrors from identical materials.

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Thermal Light Valve Brings IR Imaging to the Masses

Technology uses MEMS structure with refractive properties sensitive to thermal radiation and reads out signal with inexpensive laser diode and CMOS sensor. RedShift Systems, Waltham, Massachusetts The desire to “see” in complete darkness or through obscurants such as smoke or fog has driven the development and adoption of thermal imaging technology. Thermal imaging is the translation of a scene’s heat signature — the 8-μm to 14-μm or long-wavelength infrared (LWIR) energy an object emits — into a visible image or data that can be interpreted by a computer.

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Optically Driven Deformable Mirrors

There is no wiring on the back sides of these mirrors. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California Optically driven deformable mirrors may eventually supplant electrically driven deformable mirrors in some adaptive-optics and active-optics applications. Traditionally, the mirror facets in electrically driven deformable mirrors are actuated, variously, by means of piezoelectric, electrostrictive, microelectromechanical, liquid-crystal, or thermal devices. At least one such device must be dedicated to each facet, and there must be at least one wire carrying a control or drive signal to the device. If a deformable mirror comprises many (e.g., thousands) of facets, then wiring becomes a major problem for design, and the problem is compounded in cases of piezoelectric or other actuators for which high drive voltages are required. In contrast, in optically driven mirrors, the wiring problem is eliminated.

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